Charles Not Taking Light Rail Cuts Lightly

The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) will have its annual meeting on proposed transportation priorities with Charles County on Tuesday, October 24 at the Charles County Government Building in La Plata – and some hope to convince MDOT leadership to reconsider disinvestment in constructing a Southern Maryland light rail.

According to MDOT’s proposed CTP through fiscal 2023, MDOT plans to suspend work on project, retaining $9 million and relinquishing the opportunity for federal funding for planning the project at this time.

The Maryland Transit Administration issued the Southern Maryland Rapid Transit (SMRT) Study last May. The report summarizes options for bus and light rail along a 19-mile corridor that would parallel Route 5 and U.S. 301 from the Branch Avenue Metro station in Prince George’s to Waldorf-White Plains in Charles. The study – the fifth for this corridor in about thirty years – found that overall costs for a bus system would likely be $500 million less than for rail, but the annual operating costs of light rail would be lower by approximately $10 million. Significantly, it found that light rail service could be more easily expanded than bus to meet demand.

Gary V. Hodge, a consultant and former Charles county commissioner, continues to advocate fiercely for the light rail. From Maryland Independent:

Hodge explained that the SMRT study revealed that a bus rapid transit system would be at capacity the moment it launched, and could not be expanded.

“This puts the state administrators on the horns of a dilemma,” Hodge said. “We would spend a billion dollars to develop a [bus] system that will be obsolete the moment it launches.”

Hodge said that the light rail option has the support of every elected official in Southern Maryland.

The Charles County Board of Commissioners have submitted a letter to Transportation Secretary Rahn requesting that he reconsider the six-year funding suspension as well as his preference for bus over rail. From the letter:

Our citizens deserve the same quality of transit service that other regions of Maryland have enjoyed for decades.

Hodge hopes that members of the public will attend the annual meeting with MDOT. He said:

We’ve worked the bureaucracy. We’ve worked the planning process. We’ve lined up all the elected officials top to bottom. But to bring this home, the chief policymakers at the state level have to see the public demanding action from them.